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Marketing…Where and When to Begin

Marketing…Where and When to Begin

By Bonnie Griffin Kaake, Innovative Consulting Group, Inc.

Commercialization means making your product available to the potential buyer by creating a company based on your product concept. It is also licensing your product or intellectual property (patent, trademark, copyright) to a company already in the business of manufacturing and selling similar products so that they can then “commercialize”. Commercialization is all about marketing. Determining whether your idea is feasible in the marketplace is the most crucial element in the entire inventing process. If it is not commercially feasible (marketable), you have a dream and nothing more.

Unfortunately, most novice inventors begin with the patenting process. Many products are patentable but not marketable. Also, many are marketable but not patentable. Therefore, why would you want to file for a patent at a cost of approximately $5,000 to $10,000 before you at least begin determining marketability? Nevertheless, if you don’t file for the patent right away, it is important to keep an accurate and well-documented inventor’s journal to protect your right to your invention during development and initial marketing work. A patent attorney or your local inventor’s group can explain the importance of the journal. An excellent journal is available through the United Inventors Association.

The first place to start in determining commercial feasibility for your idea is with research. This research has two focuses: one is legal and the other is marketing. You should do this initial research yourself. The legal research consists of a preliminary patent search on the Internet at www.uspto.gov. If you find your idea on this site, stop there and go no further. If you didn’t find your idea, you will need a professional search and opinion from a reputable attorney. A good patent search and opinion is helpful in the early stages. This will either give you a green light to continue or will tell you to stop now and go on to your next creative idea. Note, I did not say file for a patent. It is too early to file.

Next, research the Internet, go to stores near you and look in industry catalogs that might have similar products. This will help you determine whether the product is already on the market. If you do this thoroughly you will also find products that will compete with yours directly and indirectly. A product will compete directly if it is a product just like yours with some variation. A product will compete indirectly with yours if it fulfills the same customer need, even if the product itself is very different. If you still think you have a viable idea for a new product, it is time to draw sketches or create a simple prototype.

During this next phase, you will most likely need input from professionals and outside services for hire. We strongly encourage you to use a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) when discussing your idea with anyone. Talk to your local inventors group or your patent attorney about securing one that adequately protects your idea. We do not recommend that you use an NDA longer than two pages. Few service providers will work with you if their attorney needs to review the NDA before they sign it. Keep it simple.

Before you spend money on patenting, prototyping, etc. you must understand who is likely to buy your product. You also must have a sufficient number of buyers willing to pay your price to make it worthwhile. Sound easy? It is not. This is going to take a considerable amount of time and effort on your part and will require professional assistance.

A good course of action in order to get a glimpse of the commercial feasibility is to start with a professional PIESâ evaluation. You can get this done through the UIA and other licensed providers of the PIESâ Evaluation system. Having this done in advance and then contacting a reputable marketing company will give you a head start on the feasibility process.

Next, you need a marketing professional’s (marketing company) opinion regarding whether you should proceed. Choose a marketing professional with experience in bringing new products to market and knowledgeable about the implications of intellectual property protection. Present all the supporting research you have done to this point to the chosen marketing professional. If you spend more than one-half an hour of an expert’s time, anticipate that you will most likely pay for the extra consulting time. Listen to what the marketing expert says. Too many inventors are so emotionally attached to their idea that they do not want to listen to anything negative. If the marketing professional does not warn you regarding the high risks of new product development and the reality of licensing probabilities, you should be looking for another company. The company that tells you that yours is a winning idea without giving you the risk factors, low probability of licensing success and possible downsides to your specific idea, is most likely more interested in their profitability than yours.

A competent marketing professional or marketing company should be able to recommend the best course of action for you. They will need to know a little about your own personal financial situation and review your research results. It is nearly impossible to launch your own product in some industries and your best and sometimes only option is to seek a licensee. On the other hand, and this includes the majority of industries, licensing is nearly impossible unless the product is already on the market commercially and showing a return. In this second situation, you will need additional capital in order to create a business, manufacture the product and market it.

A limited test market to prove the product’s viability may be an option; nevertheless, it too will cost you some money. Test marketing is a complex endeavor and the approach is unique to your specific product and industry. It will involve actual manufacturing on a smaller scale. The product is packaged appropriately for the market you are targeting and made available for sale. This test marketing process often includes focus groups or surveys. The advantage of this option is that you substantially increase the probability of eventually securing a licensee. Well over 50 percent, and it may actually be as much as 75 percent, of products that get licensed are already on the market when a larger company licenses them. Another advantage of a test market is that the licensee is usually willing to pay more for licensing, provided the test demonstrates positive results. The licensee may also want your trademarked name and your domain name if, in their opinion, it is of value.

Professional research may be needed to determine the best method of commercializing your product. If you agree to have professional research done, be sure the research applies specifically to how your product should be commercialized. General industry research is available at most libraries and is free. Research specific to your product concept, which includes a professional recommendation, is not free.

Some inventors and product developers like to file a provisional patent application or file for the actual patent, while they are still refining their product and getting the marketing research completed. This approach is more costly. Quite often, what you have filed will need revision after the research is completed and the product further developed. Still, there are certain protections that earlier filing can offer. It is best to discuss this with both your patent attorney and your chosen marketing expert. By the way, it can be to your advantage to have your marketing expert involved in the product development phase.

You are going to need professional marketing assistance and professional marketing materials whether you are test marketing your product, doing a full-scale product launch or presenting your product for a product hunt. If your product looks like you put it together in your garage, prepared the printed materials yourself and took your own photos/video, you are not likely to achieve much success. We have all seen terrible products selling well due to good marketing work. And, many of us have seen wonderful products with great potential go nowhere because the marketing was not done professionally or the inventor ran out of money at this most critical part of the process. Eighty percent of whether you succeed or not depends on how well the marketing is done. Don’t underestimate the impact of good marketing on the success of YOUR product.

Reprinted with permission from United Inventors Association, Inventor’s Resource Guide